India: Rotten 'mother tongue' of Kerala Police must be condemned

Asia Human Rights
August 15, 2016
Reproduced with Permission
Asian Human Rights Commission

The Kerala State Police Complaints Authority (SPCA) Chairman, Justice K. Narayana Kurup, recently spoke about the widespread use of abusive language by the Kerala Police, as reported by a local newspaper. He referred to this as the "mother tongue" of the institution, and cautioned that bad luck would befall cops that even abuse people likely to be older than their fathers.

Justice Kurup stated that more than three-dozen complaints have been received against police officers of the 2014 batch and that the batch must be called back and trained. He said the situation has deteriorated so much that there is no one to question the behaviour of the police officers. The SPCA is severely handicapped due to the lack of an investigating officer and the request for one has been pending with the State government for a year now, said the Chairman.

The 2006 Supreme Court judgment in Prakash Singh v. UOI & Ors [(2006) 8 SCC 1] established the requirement of states to set up Police Complaints Authorities (PCA) at the state and district levels. The PCA's are intended to be independent authorities, headed by a retired judge of the High Court or Supreme Court at the state level and by a retired district judge at the district level.

The Kerala SPCA headed by Justice Kurup has been taking notable strides in the fight against police brutalities and the widespread impunity that accompanies such criminal acts. In May 2016, after the rape and murder of a poor law student, Justice Kurup stated that the police conducted the investigation in a shoddy manner, which resulted in the loss of crucial evidence. His statement echoed the Asian Human Rights Commission's documentation and stance regarding the unprofessional and unscientific nature of police investigation , in general, and about the conduct of the Kerala police particular to the rape and murder of the law student.

Recently, the Kerala SPCA forwarded a letter to the Kerala Director General of Police (DGP) regarding a case involving custodial torture by the Harbour police of a bus driver accused of sexually assaulting a 6-year-old boy. The bus driver was left with severe injuries, including damage to his spine, due to the torture. Justice Kurup is reported to have stated in his letter that the khakhi uniform must not be seen as a license to attack people, and reiterated that the 2014 batch is a "blot on society". In this case, the three cops who were accused of torture were booked for causing grievous hurt under Sections 324 and 325 of the Indian Penal Code. They were transferred to different departments but Justice Kurup has maintained that they must be suspended, pending investigation.

The Asian Human Rights Comission (AHRC) hopes that the Kerala SPCA continues to do its duty, irrespective of resistance from the State. The statements of Justice Kurup regarding the atrocious behaviour of the Kerala police once again reiterates the need for an independent authority to investigate and ensure that the criminal police officers are brought to book. Being abusive in word and action appears to be like second skin for the cops, one that they wear along with an unwavering faith in their impunity.

The only way this superstructure of normalization of violence can be broken is if there are concerted efforts to bring the criminal police officers to book. The Harbour police who have been accused of torture must be investigated thoroughly and, if found guilty, adequately punished. This will send out the much-needed signal that the khakhi uniform will not absolve you and that you cannot get away with using disproportionate and illegal force against suspects or others.

The comments of Justice Kurup showcase a deep malaise within the Indian police - the internalization and normalization of a culture of violence where violent language and violent actions are as natural as breathing. The erosion of public trust in the police is extreme and, once again, we are reminded that Kerala had a public call for police reform in July 2015, initiated by the then DGP Mr. T.P. Senkumar, inviting proposals on ways to modernize the institution.

The AHRC responded to this call and the translated version of the circular is available on our website. The public call sought suggestions from specialists and experts in diverse fields, seeking advice on how to modernize the police force. The AHRC is hopeful for lasting change in the state, given the Kerala SPCA's continued focus on the culture of policing and the earlier call for reform. Along with a sustained media spotlight on these issues within the force, change can come about slowly but surely.